COLUMBIA, S.C. — The first loss of the season, a fogged-in airport at home on the return from Texas A&M and a long bus ride back to campus — all of the adversity from Thursday night weighed on Tennessee women's basketball coach Holly Warlick.
"How are we going to handle it?" she thought.
Very well, it turned out.
Jaime Nared had 19 points, Evina Westbrook scored all of her 16 points in the second half and Mercedes Russell added 16 points and 12 rebounds to lift the sixth-ranked Lady Volunteers to an 86-70 win Sunday at No. 9 South Carolina, which played without injured All-American A'ja Wilson.
Tennessee (16-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) rallied from a late deficit to lead Texas A&M on Thursday night before a series of mistakes by Westbrook in overtime — two turnovers and fouling a 3-point shooter — contributed to the 79-76 defeat. The journey home became even longer when the Knoxville airport was fogged in and the team's flight was rerouted to Nashville.facebook
But Warlick saw two solid practices in preparation for last season's national champs, and she was confident her team would bounce back. She didn't have to worry about Westbrook, either, because the talented freshman went 6-for-8 in the third and fourth quarters as Tennessee built an 18-point lead, then held on after the Gamecocks cut it to four midway through the final period.
"All my teammates, every single one, had my back," Westbrook said. "I had to learn from it, move on and on to the next one."
Russell, a 6-foot-6 senior starter, said she and Nared let their young teammate know everyone makes mistakes and that Westbrook needed to shake it off and get ready for South Carolina.
"You can't get it back, so forget about it," Russell said. "Do the best that you can moving forward."
South Carolina (14-3, 3-2) might apply the same lesson. It has lost two of its past three games, and Sunday's defeat was its most lopsided in the SEC since Tennessee beat the Gameocks 73-53 on Jan. 3, 2013, in Warlick's first league game as head coach.
"This is how we used to beat up on people in this league the last four years," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said with a grin. "It doesn't feel so good on the receiving end."
Sophomore Tyasha Harris had a career-best 28 points for the Gamecocks.
Wilson injured her ankle in the final minute of South Carolina's win over Auburn on Thursday night. She spent the past few days receiving treatment with hopes of playing but came out to the court during before the game with a pink cast and a scooter to keep her right leg elevated. There is no timetable for a return for Wilson, who will have an MRI after her cast is removed today, Staley said.